The rivals : TVR M-Series
The M-Series TVRs were a step towards full production car credibility for the Blackpool company, after years of building cars you could buy as kits as well as ready made.
The range – so called because ‘M’ was for ‘Martin’ – lasted the 1970s and brought stability and profitability to TVR. And they were so good, they were remixed in the late-’80s.
Dial ‘M’ for Martin
When they arrived on the scene in the early 1970s, the M-series cars were a huge step in the right direction. TVR’s boss since the company had fallen into Administration in 1965, Martin Lilley, wanted to stamp his own identity on TVR, while making it a serious player in the sports car market. And at the 1971 Earls Court Motor Show, he achieved that ambition by unveiling the M-Series alongside the arresting-looking Zante prototype, while staffing the stand with nude models. TVR attracted a lot of attention on that day.
First to go on sale was the Triumph-powered 2500M in 1972, but it was soon followed by the Ford-engined 1600M and 3000M. And although the M-Series styling looked reassuringly familiar after the Grantura, Vixen and Tuscan, underneath there was an all-new multi-tube frame, which was claimed to be both stronger and simpler to repair. Sadly, the Tuscan V8 SE (Blackpool’s own AC Cobra, no less) had quietly died in 1970, and wouldn’t be replaced effectively until the 1990s.
Under the skin, the M-Series carried on the front mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout that had been used in its predecessors, and also continued the glassfibre body-on-frame construction that made their production so flexible. Like Lotus, TVR used a backbone chassis, and the improvements for the M-Series were overseen by chassis engineer and TVR dealer Mike Bigland during 1971 in the lead-up to the new car’s launch.
Bigland had history with TVR, proving responsible for engineering improvements to the steering and suspension of a customer’s 1967 TVR Tuscan SE – and the improved car soon came to the attention of Martin Lilley. Bigland’s M-Series backbone chassis used a central-backbone layout, combined with perimeter tubes. The structure was comprised of both round- and square-section 14- and 16-gauge steel tubing – meaning it combined the ease of construction associated with square tubing, and the strength of the round stuff. The result was an all-new chassis – and upgraded workshop at Bristol Avenue to build it.
The car’s suspension was via double wishbones and coil springs front and rear, and much was sourced off the shelf from other manufacturers – most notably Triumph.
That reliance on Canley’s parts bin was evidence come the launch of the M-Series. It was a staggered launch, with a blurred cross-over from the old Vixen range and the new cars, with several cars being made up of old bodies over new chassis – but common between both was the silky straight-six Triumph engine in the 2.5-litre car. It lent confusion; we had the TVR 2500 (96 were built) and then the launch M-Series, the 2500M for the US market.
By 1973, the M-Series was selling well and coincided with the end of the kit-car era. From 1973, it was no longer possible to buy your TVR in pieces, and Lilley was delighted: the production situation simplified considerably, and the big-six-powered 2500M proved the best seller of the lot. But the Ford Capri V6 powered 3000M was the star of the range. It was effortlessly quick and smooth, with far nicer steering than the 2500M.
In 1974, John Wadman (the president of the Canada-based import company TVR North America) began a project to replace the Triumph 2.5-litre with a Ford 302cu in V8. Wadman handled the engineering of the conversion, which involved the use of different engine mounts, radiator, and springs. The Ford V8 was mated to a BorgWarner T4 gearbox with a rear differential from the Chevrolet Corvette, and the 5000M was shown at the 1975 Toronto International Auto Show.
But TVR had bigger fish to fry. In January 1975 disaster a fire destroyed large parts of the factory and numerous vehicles. TVR NA ordered and pre-paid six cars from the manufacturer. This gesture helped to secure future support from TVR for Wadman’s V8 conversions: the factory eventually supplied five M-Series coupes without engines or transmissions, specifically for the purpose of V8 installations. TVR NA also converted three cars that were originally equipped with the Ford Essex V6, but that arrived from the factory with cracks in the cylinder block.
The 3000M proved a suitable car for further development and by 1976 had sprouted an opening hatchback to become the Taimar. It was an innovative new addition to the range, proving the adaptability of the M-Series body. It was the first major alteration to the M-Series, and proved an unlikely star of the 1976 London Motor Show. According to TVR biographers, the name was supposedly created from ‘Tailgate Martin’. And 395 normally aspirated Taimars were built.
Then, the M-Series lost its roof in 1978 to become the 3000S convertible. It was this car – the first open-topped series-production TVR – that was the company’s best-seller as the ’70s drew to a close. Times had changed and TVR had grown up. To become an open-top, the body received a myriad of significant changes. Outwardly, it was identical from the A-posts forward, but the windscreen, doors, and rear were all new. And in the ultimate retro move, the S did without side windows, but did with sidecurtains instead.
For those who wanted V8 Griffith 200/400-style speed during the ’70s, TVR approached Broadspeed to produce a blown version of the 3.0-litre Essex V6. The first 3000M Turbo prototype was unveiled at the 1975 British International Motor Show at Earls Court, and went into production the following year. It ran an interesting induction system, with a carburettor that was sealed inside a pressurized box atop the engine, and a turbocharger itself was mounted low and forward in the engine compartment.
It was quick, and rare – the Broadspeed-developed car pushed out 230bhp to give a maximum speed of 139mph and a 0-60mph time of 7.2sec, but somehow it lacked drama, and clearly missed a V8.
After a seven year run, the M-Series made way for the altogether more progressive Tasmin in 1980. Ordinarily that should have been the end of it, except…
The 1980s rebirth
By the late 1980s, and the advent of the increasingly scary ‘wedges’, there was room for an entry-level TVR. And what better way to offer one than by building a revised version of the old 3000S, priced at around £2000 less than a Tasmin convertible? Its arrival in 1986 coincided with the classic car boom of the mid-’80s and hit just the right note.
Although it looks similar to its 1970s forebear, the 1991 TVR S3 feels rather different to drive, thanks to its more sophisticated semi-trailing arm rear suspension. Scuttle shake is an annoyance, but not excessively so. In the dry, it feels planted and secure, and a lack of ultimate power (150bhp) means you can play in the bends without too much risk of being bitten.
When the V8S model rumbled onto the scene in 1991 – combining V8 power with the classic bodyshell and answering an obvious question – TVR’s course was well and truly mapped. The company would go forward by looking to the past. The 1970s wedge had been put out to pasture, and developments of the new ‘old’ car concept were TVR’s passport to a more spectacular future.